Forgione added sophistication to foods in American melting pot

March 15, 1995|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

He's been called "the godfather" of American cuisine for his championship of local and regional ingredients; he's a European-trained chef credited with inventing the "new" American cuisine; he's the man who coined the term "free range" to describe poultry raised out of confinement; and he's coming to here next week to cook.

Award-winning chef and New York restaurateur Larry Forgione will team up with Linwood Dame of Linwood's/Due in Ownings Mills at a benefit dinner next Wednesday for the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland. Among items on the menu: seared wild Maine sea scallops, red chili-glazed Atlantic sea bass, pan-roasted saddle of Virginia whitetail venison and Hawaiian vintage chocolate torte.

Mr. Forgione has been attracting notice from food professionals and fans of good food since the mid-'70s, when he became chef at the River Cafe in Brooklyn. A two-year stint at the Connaught Hotel in London convinced him that American ingredients were equal to those of Continental cuisine, and he set out to prove that the words "fine" and "American" could be applied to restaurant food in this country. In 1983 he opened his first restaurant, An American Place, on New York's Upper East Side.

"He's one of the forefathers in bringing regional products and reworking them to a more sophisticated level," said Mr. Dame. "What's really exciting is that years ago French chefs were the hot thing in town," but Mr. Forgione set the trend for the Americanization of American cooking, Mr. Dame said. His innovative approach "opened the doors for a lot of other people at the same time."

"I think American cuisine typically is a melting pot that combined the culinary influences of many nations," Mr. Forgione said. These traditions, "combined with local ingredients and regional products" are the basis for an American cuisine, he said.

Recognition that fine dining need not depend on techniques and ingredients from afar has been steadily growing. "Over the years it has become more and more prevalent," Mr. Forgione said. "People are becoming aware of 'homeland' cooking," adapting the dishes and styles so "they're now being done properly, with integrity." It means, he said, "coming up with pot roast of lamb, or pot roast of venison, or lamb pot pie."

New American cuisine first cropped up on both coasts. "In the past three or four years you've seen it spreading out across the country into towns and villages," he said. "There's a certain sense of pride for American foods that wasn't there before."

In addition, he said, chefs are realizing that "you have to have really good ingredients to have really good food," and seeking out the best their regions have to offer.

Next week's visit won't be Mr. Forgione's first to Baltimore; for two years he lent his talents to the "Dinner for the Chesapeake" benefit organized by Fells Point chef and restaurateur Nancy Longo. He said he does about half a dozen charitable events in a year. "It has to be a charity I'm interested in," he said. With four children of his own -- ages 16, 14, 10 and 8 -- he finds the child-abuse prevention association a worthy cause.

Last year's benefit dinner was at the Brass Elephant, with Washington chef Jean-Louis Palladin as guest chef. This year, said event co-chair Betsy Sherman, they were looking for something entirely different. "It's a whole new approach," she said. "An American chef and a not-so-Old-World-looking setting.

The event starts with cocktails at 6:30 p.m. Dinner is at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $175 per person ($100 is tax-deductible). The five-course meal is accompanied by wines selected by the chef. Linwood's is at 25 Crosswinds Drive, Owings Mills. Seating is limited. For tickets or more information, call the Child Abuse Prevention Center at (410) 576-2414.

The following are Mr. Forgione's recipes for some of his signature versions of classic, traditional dishes.

Baked Oysters with Corn and Crab meat

Serves four

16 freshly opened oysters, on the half shell

4 ounces lump crab meat, picked of any bones or shell

1/4 cup fresh shucked corn kernels (or frozen)

1 tablespoon scallion, finely minced

2 tablespoons red bell pepper, finely diced

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon jalapeno, finely chopped

2 tablespoons dry white wine

4 tablespoons sweet (unsalted) butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

pinch of salt

ground black pepper

rock salt

Heat oven to 375 degrees. On a cookie sheet or oven pan lay out about half an inch of rock salt. Nestle the oysters so they are steady. Season each with a little fresh ground pepper and place in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes.

While the oysters are baking, heat 1 tablespoon butter in a 10-inch saute pan. Add crab meat, corn, scallion, bell pepper, ginger and jalapeno, and cook over medium heat a minute or two. Add wine and lemon juice and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook another minute.

Remove pan from heat and stir in remaining butter. Add chopped parsley.

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